- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Army’s new mobile communications network has reached Afghanistan, where soldiers are relying for the first time on smartphone-like devices to stay connected even as fixed infrastructure is dismantled to get ready for the U.S. drawdown next year.

Officially, the U.S. Army calls the new tactical level wireless network Capability Set 13 (CS13). But soldiers on the ground say it is a “digital guardian angel,” the Army’s news service reported this week.

Maj. Gary Pickens, the communications officer for the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, praised “the enhanced situational awareness given to us by this suite of technology.” The 4th brigade is the first unit to deploy CS13 in theater.

“The various platforms of CS13 give us a digital reach like we’ve never had before,” Maj. Pickens said.

The system is built on a truck-mounted mobile network backbone called the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T. It also includes the smartphone-like handsets, called “End User Devices,” that can transmit text messages, GPS locations and other data.

CS13 allows dismounted troops to get real-time information that previously was only available in vehicles or command posts. It also allows officers to digitally track and communicate with soldiers spread out across remote locations.

“Users say CS13 is a significant improvement over previous equipment,” reports the Army’s news service, adding that it will become “even more critical as drawdown operations accelerate.”

As U.S. forces prepare to pull out, they are closing many of the forward operating bases from which they have worked, and removing fixed communications infrastructure such as hard lines, radio towers and other equipment. Units using CS13 will retain the ability to communicate soldier-to-soldier at the tactical level and exchange voice and data information across their entire area of operations.

“We can maintain a robust communications capability even while the infrastructure around us on [forward operating bases] collapses,” Maj. Pickens told the Army news service. “With anything new, it takes time to fully understand the capability — both its opportunities and its deficiencies. CS13 is a significant step in the right direction to enable mission command at all echelons and across all environments.”

• Shaun Waterman can be reached at swaterman@washingtontimes.com.

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